After a deal inked this spring, Portland's Pendleton Woolen Mills will be going to Japan. Big time.
The 153-year-old Portland textile and fashion company—best known for its woolen wear, blankets, and Native American-inspired patterns—will vastly expand its business in East Asia.
The deal with Japanese distributor and licensee Sojitz Corporation will extend to clothes in major Japanese department stores, Japan-specific lines of clothing and eventually entire Pendleton-branded stores.
Pendleton expects the deal to expand their business in Japan by ten times and stretch into the "billions of yen," according to Bob Christnacht, Pendleton Vice President of Worldwide Sales. That translates to tens of millions of dollars.
Pendleton is already sold in Japan—but only in select stores.
"It was very focused on outdoor and hipster boutiques, missing the mainstream part of the fashion market," says Christnacht. Pendelton will now be sold in "the equivalent of Nordstrom, Bloomingdales, Sak's," he says. "Apparel is taken much more importantly there, they're much more fashion conscious in that segment. I send my design teams—and we go to Tokyo first before going to Paris."
In addition to distributing into department stores, Sojitz also has committed to opening Pendleton-branded stores in Japan.
"We'll start with pop-ups," Christnacht says, "shops within shops. Nameplate stores in five to seven years. "
The deal with Sojitz was brokered by Portland brand-building company the Meriwether Group, which has had a long relationship with the Japanese company. Meriwether's other clients include Voodoo Doughnut, Stumptown and Dave's Killer Bread. In late 2014, the Group helped broker a deal to bring Voodoo Doughnut to Taiwan and eventually also Japan.
"Pendleton has been in the Japanese market," says David Howitt, Meriwether Group's CEO. "It's accepted, well regarded. This is an effort to build on that, take it to the next level."
"When we go to Japan they know what Portland is," Christnacht says. "They know as much what's going on in our city as we do. The direct flight to Narita is always packed coming both ways. We have the airport store right outside security at Concourse D—it's always full prior to a flight to Japan."
In part, this extends from a Japanese interest in American traditional brands.
"Japanese traditional cultures value heritage and history," says Christnacht. "Authentic heritage brands— the Filson, the Woolrich, the Pendletons, the folks that have generations of history in the states. Red Wing Boots is huge. They want the real authenticity, not the Madison Avenue."
But the licensing agreement also includes new fashion made specifically for the Japanese market.
"As a distributor, [Sojitz] will be picking up the Pendleton line, distributing those products in Japan to different retailers," says Howitt. "As a licensee, they'll be able to make Pendleton-branded product with Pendleton that's specific to Japan—use Pendleton fabrics and patterns and brand."
At first, the main difference will be sizing. Japanese consumers want both a tighter waistline and much smaller sizes than Americans. Because summers are so hot, this will also extend to ordering lighter fabrics.
Christnacht says they're "already ordering fabric."
The new Japan-specific fashion lines are anticipated in stores as early as Fall 2017—and Christnacht says it's possible that some Japanese-designed Pendleton products might migrate back to the West, to be sold in stores in the United States.
"They may have to be sized back up," he says.